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Najjar Abdul- Musawwir works to illustrate faith, culture, history through his art


Artist Najaar Abdul- Musawwir said a woman once inquired about his work during a showing at a New York gallery. He said the question related not to the ideas present in the work or even what moved him to create it, but instead to the origin behind it.

After mentioning his work relied somewhat on ideas pertaining to the Islamic faith, she had only one question for him.

"Why don't you do more work about us? The African American experience is enough to deal with, why do you have to deal with Islam too?"

Abdul- Musawwir, who is an assistant professor in the School of Art and Design, is currently showing his work at the Art Lover's Gallery in Carterville.

He said issues such as faith play a major role in his art, providing a base for images much broader than a canvas. He has been working, in the area and across the country to spread these ideas through both art and discussions where he provides the perspective of an artist.

"Part of it is Najjar's spirit," said fellow artist Jumaane N'Namdi. "It comes through in his work in a way that I cannot compare to any other artist. And at the same time, the issues of faith and culture are ones any human can relate to."

Abdul-Musawwir is working to present his art locally as well as throughout the region. In addition to his display at the Art Lover's Gallery, he has shown his works at the Breast Cancer Series in Southwest Tennessee Community College and Governor State University in University Park, Ill,.

This past weekend, he traveled to a conference sponsored by the mid- American Alliance of African Student Council sponsored by Northwestern and Chicago Universities.

He has taken part in similar discussions in the past including a guest lecture on the late artist jean Michel- Basquiat. The "Brown v. Board of Education, An Artist's Experience," where the famous case was discussed at two Kentucky universities.

While he provides a valued perspective on the subject of art, Abdul-Musawwir said his work is much deeper than paint and a palette.

"You don't lose the alphabet because you make a word," Abdul- Musawwir said. "You don't lose a sentence because it's in a sentence and you don't lose a sentence because it is in a paragraph."

If you look through the paint or material itself that I use, there is a common thread, and I want them [observers] to experience my inner feelings."

As a believer in the Islamic faith and an African American, faith and race play an important part in the development. He said this factor often restricts his audience as much as it does attracts them, because of the lack of knowledge about the culture.

He said there are some individuals who view the Muslim faith as an attempt to become Arab. This is a weak argument he said because only 5 percent of Arabs are of the Muslim faith. He also said that, when thinking of the religion, individuals tends to visualize the more radical persona illustrated by individuals such as Malcolm X.

Although Abdul-Musawwir said that his faith plays a large role in his work, it is not the only character involved. He said he takes the visibility of his faith as a compliment. He also aspires for individuals to realize the common thread that exists behind his art.

Abdul-Musawwir, who has been at SIUC since 1997, participated in the Mid America Alliance of the African American Student Council. The conference travels from state to state and recently made an appearance at SIU-Edwardsville.

While this experience gave him the opportunity to verbally present his beliefs on certain aspects of culture, Abdul-Musawwir just as often presents his thoughts through his art.

He said he enjoyed spending time in the area heavily populated by art and artists, a strong contrast between the art scenes in Southern Illinois. Abdul- Musawwir said experiences in New York provided him with a very high energy that comes from being surrounded by others with a passion for art.

"Being an artist in Carbondale has its pluses and minuses," Abdul- Musawwir said. "There are disadvantages to having to travel to a community where they are less concerned with locals more concerned with the locally well-established artists."

He said there are certain restraints that come with being an artist in small town, but also benefits. Abdul- Musawwir said the environment and temptation from the money involved, could easily encourage a small-town artist to want to head to the city.

"It's a nice atmosphere in terms of being able to grow with you as an artist. And fortunately, we live in a community where I have a lot of support," he said.

While he is proud of his accomplishments, Abdul-Musawwir also emphasized the importance of the work of other artists.

He said Robert Ferris Thompson, who will be appearing at the University this month, is an important artist because of his knowledge of black history and his dedication to learning another culture.

"One thing that separates him is his focus on faith and his common connection between the creator, himself and his canvas," said Ann Sanders, an artist and educator in Washington, D.C. "There's a reference to this connection in regards to color and some symbols that every individual can make a connection with."

Examples such as this illustrate another point of the artist. While, culture, religion and other factors play an important role in a person's self-expression, they do not limit a person to teaching in the area. Abdul-Musawwir said he instructed many students on the basic ideas and knowledge behind art.

"We're trying to get students more interested in coming here to an environment that has their best interest in mind," he said. "No matter what type of artist you are, you need to be committed to the process, exploration and experimentation"

Just as he does not limit himself to the matter of faith in his teaching others, his message does not limit itself to those who are involved in art.

Mujhid Dajeh, whose wife is an artist, said even though he is not involved with art, he has gotten emotional after viewing Abdul-Musawwir's work.

""The art I've seen has been very sensitive," Mujhid Dajeh said. "It definitely touched me."

As Abdul- Musawwir continues to instruct his students, he said he is following his own advice and continuing to evolve in the process of art.

"In terms of being an artist, there is a spiritual as well as cultural connection that gives people a glance into a world they may not have seen," he said. "I really like the African proverb that says, when you exhibit your art, you're also exhibiting yourself."
Posted by Najjar Abdul-Musawwir on 2/11/13

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